"Wake up sleepy head."
Daniel felt like he was floating. His body was at peace as he felt no pain whatsoever. He was floating through a scape of colors as above him drifted was a figure. A figure he knew all too well. It was Kasumi Tabata. She was smiling down at him, her purple hair floating as if in water. She had a light shining off her like she was an angel. Daniel went to speak but found his vocal chords were incapable of making any noise. Kasumi continued to smile at him as he tried to speak.
"It's okay Daniel." Kasumi spoke softly but was clear as day in Daniel's head. She moved closer to him, placing her arm around his neck and the other on his cheek. He could practically smell her perfume, feel her warm breath on his face as she stared into his eyes. The soft touch of her fingertips. Her lips, all pink and soft looking, were millimeters from his as his brain couldn't fathom what was about to happen. "It's time to wake up."
Daniel blinked for a moment as Kasumi suddenly disappeared from right in front of him. He was left holding nothing as the colors around soon turned to gray as he began to fall. He tried to scream but was unable as he kept falling and falling, falling into the dark nothingness below him. Suddenly his body jolted and his eyes opened up.
"AH!" He gasped, sitting up in his bed as he panted heavily. "That….was just a dream?" He asked himself as he ran his hand over his face.
"Look who's finally awake." A voice said as a still sleepy Daniel looked over and saw Yuji sitting at his desk.
"Oh hey Yuji." Daniel said, yawning before laying back down in bed. A moment later the penny dropped as Daniel shot back up in bed and looked over at Yuji. "Why the hell are you in my room?"
"Why do you think? I came to check up on my best friend." Yuji said flipping through a large pad. It was Daniel's sketch pad, well the more recent one. He had a few more packed away somewhere in this room. "Didn't know you could draw."
"Yeah I do, but don't change the subject. Why are you in my room...WHEN I'M SLEEPING!?" Daniel asked, the shouting making his head throb as the pain from yesterday started to come back.
"Well, I wasn't gonna just leave you by yourself. So when I knocked on the door, your host mom said you were still sleeping, but I was more than welcome to wait." Yuji said, flipping through the pages.
"That's not creepy at all." Daniel said, shaking his head. "Wait...who else did you meet?"
"Just Mrs. Tamashiro and Rumi." Yuji said, placing the sketchpad back on the desk.
"Oh thank god…." Daniel said silently. The last thing he needed was Ayame barging in and Yuji falling for her.
"So how are you feeling today? Eye is looking better" Yuji asked, leaning back in the chair.
"Much better honestly. Swelling is starting to go down, eye still hurts a little, but mostly just feel stiff right now. Think I need to get moving." Daniel said as he got himself up out of bed. I'm going to get ready. Continue snooping through my things."
"Will do buddy." Yuji said, walking around Daniel's room, noticing Daniel had an affinity for just leaving clothes around on the floor. It was always said you can tell everything about a person by their room and Daniel was no different. Everything he brought with him from America was on display. Several posters for sports like baseball and hockey hung on the wall. The bookshelf was full of different kinds of novels. Everything from manga, to American graphic novels, to American classics. In a way, this room represented home for Daniel, a place he could feel like he was still back in America.
Meanwhile in the bathroom, Daniel was washing his face. He looked in the mirror at his black eye as he couldn't get that dream out of his head. "It's just a dream. Doesn't mean anything. Later on, I'll probably dream about rowing a canoe down a river of strawberries. It means nothing." He said with a sigh, almost like he was trying to convince himself that this was the real truth. After finishing his clean up and getting dressed, Daniel walked back into his room where Yuji was looking at his bookshelf.
"It's a hodgepodge of culture clashes isn't it?" Daniel asked, tossing his pajamas onto his bed.
"You got some interesting books here. I feel like I'm getting a headache just looking at these. Half of them I can't even read." Yuji said, grabbing one book and opening it to a random page. "What even is this?"
"That's the Sherlock Holmes collection. You know who he is right?" Daniel asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh yeah, I heard that name. He's like the Akechi Kogoro of the west." Yuji said as Daniel made a 'meh, not quite' face.
"More like Akechi is the Japanese Sherlock, but the principal is still the same." Daniel said as Yuji put the book back on the shelf.
"I gotta tell ya, looking around this room, doesn't it make you miss home? I mean it looks so American. It's gotta make you homesick." Yuji asked. Daniel was caught off guard by the question. He looked around the room, never actually having thought about it like that before.
"Of course I miss home, who wouldn't? But I feel like this room actually helps me get over it. Everything here came from home. In a way, I brought America to Japan." Daniel said, smirking. "So, what's on the docket for today? Cause I know you didn't come all the way here just to wax philosophical on the aspects of homesickness and the way the bedroom helps or hurts."
"You got me there. I am here to give you the typical Japanese high schooler experience. Today, we're hitting the arcade! If you're feeling up to it" Yuji said, pumping his hand up. Daniel thought about it. He WAS feeling a bit better from yesterday, not 100%, or even closer to 75, but Daniel wasn't one to enjoy just laying there and doing nothing. He had to move.
"Sure, why not. Sounds like fun." Daniel said as he grabbed his phone and wallet. "Wait...just one question I'm just realizing….How did you know where I lived?"
"Oh that? I had Tabata-Chan tell me yesterday while we waited for you. Told her I was gonna check up on you today." Yuji said as the two friends left Daniel's house.
"Oh she did? Did she tell you anything else?" Daniel asked, side eyeing Kasumi's house as they walked past it. The curtains were open so someone was home. He wondered what Kasumi did on her days off. Remembering what she said about her family, she is probably studying.
"No nothing. Why?" Yuji asked as Daniel just shook his head.
"Oh nothing in particular." He said laughing to himself. He couldn't help but wonder about Yuji's reaction if he found out he and Kasumi were neighbors.
Yuji kept pestering Daniel to spill the beans all the way into Shibuya, but Daniel refused to crack. As they walked into the arcade building, Daniel was quickly overwhelmed by the lights and sounds that soon began filling his ears. It was pure overstimulation of it all as this massive building was wall to wall arcade games. Daniel knew Japan had a love for their games, but he never imagined it would be like this. It was enough to give you a headache.
"Jesus….how you spend so much time in a place like this?" Daniel asked as they walked through the various rows of crane games, heading up to the stairs to the other floors.
"You get used to it eventually." Yuji said walking up to the change machine and putting in 1000 yen. "What are arcades like back home?"
"Nothing even close to this. They're kind of a dying breed in America. They're usually only found in amusement parks or vacation towns more often than not. Even then they're just one floor." Daniel said, following Yuji's lead and putting in a thousand note too.
"Well, let's see what you got. Loser buys lunch?" Yuji asked, putting his hand out for the wager. Daniel thought about it and smirked.
"You're so on." He said, shaking Yuji's hand. Daniel wasn't exactly good at video games, in fact he'd call himself terrible, but Yuji didn't know that, and his competitive side was tapped into, and one thing Daniel hated was losing.
And that's exactly what Daniel did, lose. Every game, every round, lose lose lose lose. No matter if it was a fighting game, kart racer, or rhythm game, Yuji smoked him over and over again. Yuji was just too good at this. He hustled Daniel. He knew he would best him somehow and hustled him into paying for lunch. He'd been completely had.
"Wow, I can't believe you never won a single time. You must REALLY suck at video games." Yuji said smugly, leaning up against the wall with a soda as Daniel put in his 100 yen coin to get one of his own. He pressed the button and….nothing. The soda never came out. Daniel yelled in frustration as he grabbed the vending machine, Yuji laughing hysterically. "You can't even beat a vending machine?"
"Um, excuse me, please don't abuse the machines." A small voice said behind Daniel. Daniel looked back over his shoulder to see one of the workers standing there. It was a girl, roughly around their age. She had short brown hair and wore the uniform of the arcade. "This machine is notorious for taking people's money. Just tap the lower left side of the machine."
She walked up to the machine and gave the lower left side of it a firm rap with the side of her fist and sure enough, the machine made some noise and the can Daniel asked for dropped out. The 100 yen even came out of the return coin slot. Daniel reached down and took his drink, popping the tab. "Oh thanks for that."
"No worries." She said sweetly, giving them a smile. "Say, sorry for being weird, but you two go to Matsurbara High School right?"
"Yeah, we do. Why?" Yuji asked, leaning against the opposite side of the vending machine.
"I thought so. I'm a student there too. Eto Chiyo, I'm a first year." She said sticking her hand out. "And you must be the transfer student everyone talks about."
"Daniel Robert, call me Daniel. Pleased to meet you." He said, shaking her tiny hand. Chiyo then quickly stepped up on her tippy toes as she began examining Daniel. She had her hand on her chin, a serious look on her face. "Uh….is there something on my face?"
Chiyo didn't respond, she just continued to look at Daniel's face. She suddenly reached up and grabbed his chin this time, turned his head to the side, getting a look at his side profile. Both Yuji and Daniel had no idea what was even happening or what to say. Finally after a few moments of agonizing silence, Chiyo smiled and let go of his face.
"Hmm. The black eye won't do, but beyond that….Mhmm, exactly what I was looking for." She said smugly.
"And what were you looking for? A reputation for creepiness?" Yuji asked.
"Not at all. You see, my goal in life is to be a top tier Mangaka. I don't mean to brag, but I'm currently working on my soon to be self published a doujinshi called 'Hold Me Closer'." She said putting her hands on her hips in a proud stance.
"Oh...well that's good for you….what does my face have to do with this?" Daniel asked, wanting to get to the point.
"Well you see, I am in the process of drawing the panels, but there's only one problem. I don't have a look for one of my characters. When I heard about the new transfer student, I wanted to see if maybe you were the muse I was looking for. And look at you! You're tall and exotic looking. Exactly what I need. So please….WILL YOU MODEL FOR MY WORK!?" She asked, suddenly giving a deep bow.
Both Yuji and Daniel spat out their sodas at the request, but had two very different reactions. Daniel was a little weirded out and confused by it all so suddenly. It's such an odd request. Especially when he's only just met this girl like 5 minutes ago. Yuji, however, had a different reaction. He was holding himself up against the wall, laughing hysterically.
"Oh my god, this is the funniest thing I've heard in weeks. You want this battered looking guy to model for your manga?" Yuji asked, trying to not hyperventilate.
"Yes. I like to base my art off people I see in real life. Obviously I change them up slightly and give them new names, but one of the reasons I took a job at this arcade was because it let me see all kinds of people that I can use in my work." Chiyo said.
"I don't know…..it's all kinda sudden." Daniel said, lying as really he found it just plain weird, but didn't want to hurt the girl's feelings.
"Oh come on Danny. Help the girl out. Besides, you're an artist too. Shouldn't you want to help other ones, especially those younger?" Yuji said, Chiyo's eyes lighting up when she heard the word artist.
"You're an artist? Do you make manga too? Do you wanna collab?" She asked, getting uncomfortably close.
"I draw, I wouldn't call myself an artist and no I don't. My style doesn't exactly lend itself to manga. Would you mind backing up a bit please?" Daniel said as Chiyo nodded her head and stepped back.
"How about this? Come visit the Manga club room tomorrow after class. Come see the work we do and you can make your decision then. Please?" Chiyo asked sweetly, tilting her head to the side. She was playing up her natural cuteness, trying to charm Daniel. Daniel was really swayed by it, but he figured it would just be rude to turn her down, so he'd at least give her this.
"Alright, I'll come by tomorrow, but no promises." Daniel said as Chiyo cheered loudly, drawing the attention of a few passerbys.
"I'll see you tomorrow then!" Chiyo started shaking Daniel's hand before running off to return to work.
"You sure seem to attract a lot of attention. Maybe you should try blending in more." Yuji said as Daniel pushed his friend into the wall slightly for his smart ass remark. The two left the arcade to find some place to eat, on Daniel's dime of course.
The next day, Daniel sat in class, tapping his pencil against his desk as he listened to the teacher talk about the Edo period. It was all going through one ear and out the other. He had his meeting with the Mangaka club later and he was honestly wondering if just not showing up would make a good answer.
No, that's just rude. She had the courtesy to invite me, I should at least say no in person.
That's when he had an idea. Maybe he should bring someone with him. That way, in case they start trying to pressure him, he can make a quick escape with them. He quickly reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He brought up Kasumi's contact and sent a quick message.
'Hey, mind helping me with something after school? Meet me by the club rooms.'
He hit send and waited for a response. When he felt his leg vibrate, he pulled out his phone and checked.
'Yeah sure wats this about'
'I'll explain when I see you. Nothing too serious. See you then.'
Daniel pocketed his phone, just in time to avoid being caught by the teacher. He turned his attention back to the lesson as the day soon came to another close. As everyone got up to gather their things, Yuji swatted Danny on his back.
"So, you going to join the Manga club? Pose for them like a Greek statue?" He teased as Daniel gave a sarcastic laugh back.
"Funny, no. I'm simply going to tell her I'm not interested, simple as that." Daniel said as he grabbed his bag. Saying his byes to Yuji, he left the class, making his way to the club building, Kasumi waiting by the doors. When she saw him, she eagerly waved at him. "Hey Kasumi, thanks again for this."
"Hey, it's not a problem. What's this all about anyway?" Kasumi quizzed. Daniel gave her the rundown about what happened yesterday with Chiyo at the arcade. Hearing that, Kasumi couldn't help but laugh. "This girl sounds like a handful. I can imagine why she'd make you uncomfortable."
"I just want to get in and out as fast as possible with as little issues and I figured having someone with me might make that easier." Daniel said as they walked into the club building.
They found the door marked with the 'Manga Club' sign and opened it. Daniel poked his head inside, and got a good look around. The room wasn't overly large, big enough to fit a decent sized table in the center, a computer in the corner, most likely for scanning and printing their works, and even an old school drawer desk in the opposite corner. On the walls hung dozens upon dozens of pages of manga, all seemed to have been down by the club itself. Daniel had to admit, so far, this place looked more legit than he originally pictured. Chiyo was seated at the center table, reading, when she looked up and saw Daniel's floating head and smiled.
"Daniel-chan! She said excitedly as she got up and went over to the door. The other two club members, both gentlemen, looked up from their discussion from the computer to see Daniel and Kasumi get pulled in. "I was hoping you'd stop by."
"Well, I figured it would've been rude to just ghost you. Oh this is Tabata Kasumi, she's a second year too. Kasumi, Eto Chiyo first year." Daniel said giving a quick introduction to the two. Chiyo bowed to Kasumi.
"I know Tabata-chan. It's an honor to finally meet you." Chiyo said as Kasumi smiled and bowed too.
"Please call me Kasumi, Chiyo." She said as Chiyo gasped at the idea, but quickly nodded her head.
"Chiyo, who are they? New members?" The one student sitting at the computer asked, walking up. He was a taller student, still much shorter than Daniel, but he had shaggy black hair and wore these thick rimmed glasses. The other student was a more...portly boy, with a shaved head.
"Oh, this is the transfer student. The one I was telling you about." Chiyo said as Daniel waved.
"Daniel Robert. Hiya." He said as the two boys bowed.
"I am Fujiwara Masoto. Third year and president of the Manga Club. Welcome to our club." The boy with glasses said. "And this is my vice president, Wada Shigeru. So you're the one Chiyo wants to use a model for her work?"
"Yeah, that's what she said. I just came here to say that I don't think that's a good…" Daniel began said, before Kasumi, who started looking at the work on the walls, wandered over to the computer.
"So you guys made all these mangas yourself?" She asked curiously.
"That's right, this manga club isn't just about the reading of manga. We all wish to become Mangakas ourselves and this club's goal is to help us realize that." Masoto said proudly. Daniel had to respect the drive, not a lot of folks felt that passionate about anything.
"And is this your latest one?" Kasumi asked, pointing at the screen. The group all gathered around the computer and looked at the panel in question.
"Ah yes, that is actually one of Chiyo's." Masoto said, smiling proudly at his member's work. The panel showed two young men in a deep embrace, hands entwined with the other's. Chiyo was a boy lovers manga fan. The art itself was fine, Chiyo had clear talent, if it was a little raw and unrefined, but she was young and could easily fix things up. Wasn't like he was much better himself.
"Chiyo….could I maybe read this when it's complete?" Kasumi asked, Chiyo's face lightening up like a christmas tree.
"I would love it if you did! I'll get you a copy the moment it's finished!" Chiyo said proudly.
"Is this kind of stuff even allowed on school grounds?" Daniel asked, feeling like he was the only one who was uncomfortable about this. Even Kasumi didn't seem bothered, if anything, she looked entranced by it.
"All our mangas follow the strictest guidelines set by both the school and ourselves. We may teeter on the line of risque, but we always do it tastefully and never go full lewd with our works. We strive to prove that self published mangas can be more than just dirty fanfics! But we're having a bit of trouble with this one panel." Masoto said proudly as Chiyo and Shigeru cheered behind him.
"But what is wrong here? It seems fine to me." Kasumi said, looking at the club.
"Maybe you can help with that, Daniel-san. Chiyo told us you're also an artist, maybe your western upbringing can bring a new perspective to this piece." Masoto asked. Daniel didn't really want to, but the look Chiyo gave him softened him up. She was truly interested in his opinion, even if it wasn't worth much.
"In my opinion, the perspective is off. You're drawing the eyes to the wrong part of the scene. The eye is being drawn to the hands there, when it should focus more on the faces up here." He said, pointing out his thoughts on the panel. "I also think the pose itself could be changed. They should have a little more space between them. Something like this."
He turned and grabbed Kasumi, not even realizing what he was doing, he was just in art mode. He grabbed her hand in his right and held it out as his other hand wrapped around her waist and bent her backwards slightly. His face closes to hers. She gasped slightly, feeling embarrassed at being in this almost intimate position, and in front of others.
"See this is much more effective at getting your point across. The eye is naturally drawn up and there's not much obstruction of the face." Daniel said standing Kasumi back up straight, completely unable to notice the blush all over her face, her hair dangling in front of it.
"I see. So the issue was a focus and overcrowding problem. That's easily corrected. Chiyo, let's get to work." Masoto said as Chiyo nodded and quickly went over to the drawing desk, sitting down as she took out some pencils and paper and began redrawing her panel. The minutes ticked away as after some time, Chiyo finally finished.
"How's this?" She asked, holding up the new panel. Daniel examined it, along with the other club members. He tapped his chin, before nodding his head. "Much better."
Chiyo smiled as she celebrated as Shigeru took the paper and began scanning it into their computer.
"Thanks Daniel. That was really helpful." Chiyo said as Daniel smiled himself, patting her on the head.
"It's not a problem. Listen, about that offer yesterday, I'm gonna have to decline." He began to say as Chiyo began to look sad. "But, how about this. If you have any questions about your drawings or need my help with some drawings, I'd be more than willing to help okay?"
"Really? I won't be a bother?" She asked softly.
"Not as long as you don't over do things, no." He said smiling. "I got to go, I kept Kasumi away for too long." He said as he gathered his things, Kasumi already halfway out the door. "I'll see ya around Chiyo."
"B-bye senpai!" She called out as the door closed behind him.
"Wow, that was…..a different experience." Daniel said, slinging his backpack onto his shoulder as the two walked down the hall. Kasumi stayed a few steps ahead of him, not talking much. "Hey, something the matter?"
"You just….grabbed me and held me in such a way that I never had been before." She finally said as Daniel raised an eyebrow, before realizing what she meant. His own cheeks began to blush as he began to apologize.
"Oh I'm sorry for doing that to you and so suddenly. Sometimes when I draw or get involved with art I sometimes zone out and enter this space where I don't notice anything besides the drawings themselves. I've been known to have full conversations with people where I retain nothing said." He said as Kasumi began shaking her head.
"It's fine….just….don't do that again please." She said, looking away from him for a moment. "At least, not before asking." She mumbled the last part under her breath, Daniel didn't pick any of it up.
"Yeah, sure sorry again. Hope that doesn't make things too weird." Daniel said, laughing nervously.
"Let's just get going. We'll miss our train." Kasumi said as the two made their way to the station, just barely avoiding missing the train. They rode home in relative silence, Daniel noticing the thick atmosphere hanging over them. Yeah, things were definitely weird now.
"Look, Kasumi, about all that earlier…" He said as Kasumi quickly shook her head.
"You know….that was the first time anyone that wasn't my family ever held my hand." She said softly, looking down at her hand.
"Oh really?" Daniel said surprised, he didn't think that would be such a big deal. It was just holding hands after all. "Is...is that like a big deal over here?"
"Yes, it is. Holding hands in public is not something many couples here do. Public displays of affection are not something we share over here. We believe things like that should be held in the home." Kasumi began to explain, leaving Daniel with a sense of pity.
I'm not one to question another culture, but come on, that's taking things too far.
"In America, holding hands, it's almost blaise now. If you don't hold hands in public, it's like you're ashamed or saying you don't like the other person. Even young kids hold hands now." He said stretching his legs out.
"What?! Young kids hold hands?" She asked, shocked by such a statement.
"It doesn't mean anything. When you're young, like in kindergarten, you play house and the boy and girl who are 'husband and wife' hold hands to show it. It's all make pretend. As you get older and learn about what love and romance actually is, hand holding becomes almost a safety net. If you're too shy to kiss her, you can at least hold her hand." Daniel said, leaning his head back as he looked out the window behind them.
"Well what about you?" She asked, fidgeting in her seat. "Have you ever held hands with a girl you liked?"
"That would require a girl to like me enough to want to hold it in the first place. And that wasn't happening back home." Daniel said with a small laugh at her question.
"Why's that? You're such a kind guy, there had to have been someone." Kasumi inquired, unable to believe that no one could be interested in Daniel.
"Maybe I am kind, but that didn't mean much then. You wouldn't know this, but until very recently, I was just some pipsqueak. Growing up I was always short for my age. By the time middle school started, all my friends were starting to grow, but I wasn't, at least not at the rate they were. Because of that, I was always laughed at by the other kids when I couldn't do something like reach the pull up bar in gym, picked last for kickball during recess cause no one wanted me. And girls don't like a guy that is smaller than them." Daniel said with a heavy sigh, shaking his day as the thoughts of middle school all came back.
"That's so mean." Kasumi said softly, covering her mouth with her hand.
"Eh, kids are mean, simple as that. It doesn't bother me anymore. I eventually grew, and everyone around me soon forgot that I was ever small. It's the circle of life." He said finishing off with a shrug.
"Still." Kasumi said softly, before looking at her hand. "So what you're trying to say is, I was the first person to hold your hand."
"Huh? Oh….yeah I guess you can say that." Daniel said, his cheeks flushing a little as he scratched his cheek.
"Well, I'm glad we could be each other's first." Kasumi said, bringing Daniel to an uncontrollable laughter. "What?"
"I would completely rephrase that if I were you." He said as Kasumi thought about it for a moment, before her face turned beet red. She grabbed her bag and began hitting Daniel on the arm with it.
"You pervert, that's not what I meant at all!" She said, hiding her face in embarrassment.
"Hey, you're the one who said it, not me!" Daniel said between fits of laughter as he tried to stop her. "Okay okay, watch the face. I'm still healing over here."
Kasumi finally put the bag down as they enjoyed the now peaceful silence on the last few minutes of the train. When they left the station, they enjoyed the still cool night air as they said their goodbyes before heading into their houses. Later on that night, Daniel sat at his desk, just finishing up the last of his homework. He thought about earlier that day with the manga club, Kasumi's reaction to his holding her, and even about that weird dream from the other day.
Looking out his window for a moment, he closed his notebook as he reached into his desk and pulled out his sketch pad. Flipping it open to a new page, he took out his pencil and began sketching. Minutes turned to hours as the only sound in the room was the scratching of pencil on paper. Soon enough, the picture started to take shape. Kasumi sitting on a lone rock, knees brought to her chest. Wrapped around her legs was a lone angel wing. Daniel looked at the picture and smiled to himself. He'd worry about the coloring another time, but for now, he was impressed with himself.
"She probably won't even see it. I'd probably die from embarrassment at that." He said to himself as he stood up and stretched, leaving the room to see what was available to eat.
Meanwhile, across the street in the Tabata household, Kasumi laid in her bed, holding her hand up as she looked at it. She couldn't stop thinking about the way Daniel held it when he posed with her earlier, how warm it was. How she wanted to do it again.
"OH Stop it Kasumi! You can't go around thinking about stuff like this! It's not fair to Daniel." She said burying her face in her pillow as she tried her best to push the thoughts that were creeping into her mind out. She failed that night.